Does Your Business Need a Mobile App?

December 21, 2018

Does Your Business Need a Mobile App?

Many companies — big ones like Facebook, most banks, many smaller companies — have introduced mobile apps. Should you get a mobile app for your business?

As with most of these questions, the short answer is “it depends.” Let’s examine the factors.

A mobile app is a big part of business
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Are Mobile Apps (and Mobile Presence) Important to My Business?

The unqualified answer to this is a definite yes.

As of 2018, more than 50 percent of web usage is on a mobile device. According to Statista, more than 50 percent of website traffic is coming from mobile devices. (Other sources put that as high as 60 percent.) people also spend roughly twice as much web time on mobile devices as on a desktop.

Advertising companies also observe that engagement in mobile apps is much higher than on the desktop. This doesn’t necessarily apply to all kinds of applications, but it does indicate engagement is very high on a mobile platform.

Do Mobile Apps Really Apply to My Business?

It’s a reasonable question. Not too many years ago you were very likely asking yourself the same question about a website.

In 2018, if you don’t consider the mobile experience, you’re cutting your potential market in half — and very possibly cutting out the more important half of the market at that.

Does Web Presence Require a Mobile App?

Another good question and the short answer is that in many cases a mobile app isn’t really required. Some companies don’t need an Internet presence at all — although these days, it’s not many. Even small sole practitioners like massage therapists and house cleaners are finding they need a web page if only to have something to connect to Yelp.

For some companies, a simple web page is sufficient. Even then the web page needs to be “responsive,” which is tech-speak for a web page that looks good on a desktop, a tablet, or a phone.

A mobile app can take you were the internet doesn't go
Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

So Why Have a Mobile App?

There are several reasons a business does need an actual mobile app.

Do you need to work away from the internet?

Sometimes, a web application can seem like a brilliant idea, except the major users will be in the field, and away from a reliable internet connection.

Sometimes, these applications are literally used in a farm field. Heavyworth is an FHG customer for whom this is true. Their business is to support people who want to buy or sell heavy equipment, especially farm equipment at auction. They allow an assessment of a particular piece of equipment on site in preparation for an auction.

In the past, this meant a team who visited the site in person resulting in travel time and expense. Using their new application, a phone app allows the same information to be entered directly, which is much less expensive and highly scalable.

A simple web-only application wouldn’t do the job for them, because — until we have a constellation of WiFi satellites or a network of repeater blimps — internet coverage in the cornfields is spotty at best.

The solution for Heavyworth is a phone app to collect data, which is then forwarded on to the home office when the phone is once again within reliable cellular coverage.

The Application Needs Access To Phone Resources

Some applications need to use information directly provided by the phone, like the camera, the microphone, GPS, or the motion sensors. Some of these can be read from a web page, but privacy concerns have made many people uncomfortable with allowing a web page to access your camera. Vendors have responded by restricting, or even eliminating access by web browsers.

One particularly important example is the ability to access other devices via Bluetooth or WiFi, as with “Internet of Things” devices. And again, privacy and security concerns restrict or eliminate access by a web browser application.

The Application Requires Guaranteed, Fast, Real-Time Performance

Games are usually on the bleeding edge of new computer technology. Fast, high-resolution graphics, quick response time, complex user interactions, and new means of interaction, like augmented and virtual reality all showed up in games first. But hardly anyone wants to play high-intensity web games on their phones, and for good reason. Browsers generally provide generic vanilla graphics support, and telephones generally provide relatively low bandwidth connections — or higher bandwidth, at great cost and with poor coverage. (This may not be true forever, but it’s likely that when web technology catches up with current native applications, native applications will have moved on.)

And what’s in games today will be in highly stable, business-like apps tomorrow. Augmented reality, richer graphics, large high-speed local data stores will all become common features of more stolid, business-like apps in the future.

The real answer to the question of whether you need a mobile app is to ask yourself “will my competition be able to get an advantage from a mobile app if I don’t?”

Developing a mobile app takes special skills. Look for a track record.
Photo by Stefan Steinbauer on Unsplash

How Can I Get a Mobile App For My Business?

Like nearly everything else in the world of technology, mobile app development is rapidly changing. Just a couple of years ago, if you wanted to build a mobile app, you either decided to limit yourself to Apple or Android, or you accepted the cost of two independent development projects using different programming languages, different skill sets — and roughly double the cost for the two phone platforms.

That’s no longer true. There are a number of technologies available now to build mobile applications with native capabilities using a single code base. Our favorite at FHG (this month) is React Native, but there are a number of others, such as PhoneGap, Ionic, and Electron.

Most of these apply web technology directly in the mobile app, which means web developers can transition easily to mobile development, enlarging the pool of developers. And while making the codebases for Apple and Android 100 percent common is not likely, you can get close, which reduces the development effort substantially.

Which, of course, reduces the cost as well.

I’m Convinced! Where Can I get a Custom Mobile App?

In general, for any company that is not primarily a technology company, the least best answer is to develop it yourself. You need to find great developers, hire them and pay them. Hiring developers is a little like adopting a pet: you have to house them, train them, take care of them, and your responsibility doesn’t end with the first project.

For most companies, going outside is a better choice and less risky. Some contracting firms will try to reduce costs by going offshore for the actual development work. We’ve covered that before but the short summary is that overseas developers have their own problems: language barriers, management difficulties, and an 8 to 12-hour timezone difference. (I’ve been on both sides of overseas development. I promise you, it’s no fun for anyone.)

So what’s easiest for everyone and the best bet for good results is to use a consulting/contracting firm in the United States. Then you need to look for some particular capabilities:

  • Expertise in user experience design. UXD is critical for mobile apps.
  • Expertise in mobile development on the front end, expertise in web and API development, and expertise with the problems of data management, reliability, security, and performance on the back end.
  • A track record of successful, timely and on-budget mobile app development.

No development effort is completely without risk, but a firm with a track record and the right expertise is always your best bet.

We know a firm just like that. Contact us for a free consultation and estimate on your next mobile development project.

Charlie Martin
Consulting Software Engineer

Charlie Martin is a consulting software engineer and writer in Erie, Colorado, with interests in systems architecture, cloud computing, distributed systems in general and innovative applications of blockchains in particular. He is available for consulting through Flint Hills Group.


Charlie Martin
Consulting Software Engineer

Charlie Martin is a consulting software engineer and writer in Erie, Colorado, with interests in systems architecture, cloud computing, distributed systems in general and innovative applications of blockchains in particular. He is available for consulting through Flint Hills Group.